What a great state for high school basketball.
The legendary names and iconic careers of so many individual prep stars in Illinois are a big and influential part of the state’s basketball history.
This past week, in two separate pieces, the City/Suburban Hoops Report identified 18 players who make up the list of the most decorated and accomplished prep basketball players in Illinois history.
Again, this was not a list of the greatest or best players in state history. In short, this list is of players who have compiled the greatest individual résumés in state history.
Then after the 18 were identified this week, through Twitter the Hoops Report sought out the opinion of followers and readers to decide two more spots in what would make up the final list of 20.
There was wide-ranging support and numerous votes that were sent in via Twitter and email, many of which failed –– as predicted –– to follow the very simple guidelines that were outlined in the original story:
1) The player had to have won a state championship, because without a state title the legacy of the player just isn’t quite the same, nor can it match up with the others when specifically talking in terms of “decorated” and “accomplished.”
2) We stuck to the modern era in Illinois, which in this case the cut-off was the advent of the two-class system in 1972. Thus, the likes of Dike Eddleman, George Wilson, Lou Boudreau and a few others weren’t going to be on the list.
This criteria eliminated several of the state’s greatest talents, thus the cries for several fell on deaf ears due to a lack of a state championship (from Isiah Thomas to Cazzie Russell to Ronnie Fields to Cliff Alexander) or playing before the modern era of mass media attention, various all-star games and national rankings and recognition (from Dike Eddleman to Lou Boudreau to George Wilson).
The votes this week included several names, and it ultimately came down to a three-player race between Lawrenceville’s Jay Shidler, who was –– and deservedly so –– the top vote-getter, Ed Horton of Springfield Lanphier and Quentin Richardson of Whitney Young. Horton edged out Richardson and, along with Shidler, has been added to the final list of 20.
The Hoops Report has now ranked the top five and why they’re ranked where they are, with a listing and the credentials of the other 15, including Shidler and Horton, listed below.
1. Jabari Parker, Simeon (2013)
Why he’s No. 1: You’re talking a player who was a part of four state championships, a Chicago Sun-Times Player of the Year, Mr. Basketball winner –– the only two-time winner in state history –– and a National Player of the Year award winner. And whether fair or not, Parker was arguably the most nationally publicized player in state history (Hello, Sports Illustrated cover!). Parker is the state’s most “decorated” player.
The case for: It starts with winning four straight state championships, something only the boys down at Peoria Manual accomplished back in the 1990s. He was MVP of the FIBA Americas U16 Championship, where he won a gold medal in 2012 and 2013. That’s Parker’s biggest résumé builder as he was the ultimate winner.
But you’re also talking about a high school player who graced the cover of Sports Illustrated, with the headline “The Best High School Basketball Player Since Lebron James” and had a sit-down with Katie Couric on Good Morning America. You can certainly argue Parker was the most hyped player in state history.
For much of his high school career he was the No. 1 ranked player in the country, finishing as the consensus No. 3 ranked player in the country as a senior. He was a two-time Gatorade National Player of the Year, received the Morgan Wooten Award in 2013 and was a McDonald’s All-American as a senior. Parker was the co-MVP of the Jordan Brand Classic all-star game.
In addition, Parker is the only player in Illinois to ever be named Mr. Basketball as a junior in high school –– and is the only two-time winner in state history –– while also winning Chicago Sun-Times Player of the Year.
2. Marcus Liberty, King (1987)
Why he’s No. 2: There was just an aura surrounding Liberty, beginning with his junior season when he led King to a state title while leading the Jaguars in scoring and rebounding during state tournament play. He was hailed as the No. 1 player in the country –– USA Today’s National Player of the Year in 1987 –– and was a national prep hoops figure well before the Internet and websites.
The case for: Before there was mass media exposure given to high school players or any Internet access, Liberty emerged as a star on his own as the multi-faceted 6-8 forward was profiled in Sports Illustrated as the top-ranked senior player in the country. Liberty, who was a McDonald’s All-American and the Parade Player of the Year, was a basketball legend in Illinois.
As a junior he led King to a state championship and 32-1 record, followed by a return trip to the state championship game his senior year, where it fell to LaPhonso Ellis and East St. Louis Lincoln in the final. But in that title game, Liberty left a memorable impression by scoring 41 points and pulling down 15 rebounds. He set what was, at the time, a state tournament scoring record with 143 points in four games.
3. Jahlil Okafor, Whitney Young (2014)
Why he’s No. 3: There is something to be said about being the No. 1 player in the country. There have been very few in the long, illustrious history of high school basketball in this state. Add on all the individual accolades and a state championship, and the rare but true and dominating big man inches his way up into the top three.
The case for: The consensus No. 1 player in the country and All-American as a senior in high school while winning multiple National Player of the Year honors, including the USA Today National Player of the Year, Parade Player of the Year and the Morgan Wooten National Player of the Year. Those are accomplishments that are rare for any player.
As a senior, though, he added what was missing: leading Young to a state championship. He did so in impressive fashion. In an Illinois prep classic, a state semifinal win over Stevenson in 2014, Okafor had 33 points and 14 rebounds. He also had 35 points and 13 rebounds in a sectional win over St. Rita.
He won multiple gold medals for Team USA in 2011, 2012 and 2013, earning MVP honors at the 2012 FIBA U17 World Championships.
Okafor, who won a Public League championship as a junior, was named MVP of the McDonald’s All-American Game and was the 2014 Illinois Mr. Basketball winner and the 2013 Chicago Sun-Times Player of the Year.
In 2012, Sports Illustrated named Okafor one of the magazine’s “Future Game Changers,” a group of 14 young star athletes considered to be the top talents in each of their respective sport.
4. Jamie Brandon, King (1990)
Why he’s No. 4: Just the name Jamie Brandon resonates with fans across the city and state, because he was as dominating as they come as a prep player. But he had the résumé to go with it, starting with a 32-0 record his senior year while King won a mythical national championship. The USA Today’s First Team All-Americans that year? Ed O’Bannon, Eric Montross, Shawn Bradley, Damon Bailey and Jamie Brandon. He’s also the third all-time leading scorer with an astronomical 3,157 career points.
The case for: Due to not having the type of post-high school career others on this list had, Brandon is often forgotten when discussing the state’s all-time best. But he was just that. Brandon was a monster and very decorated player, finishing his high-profile career with a sterling 116-13 career record in four years at King.
In back-to-back years in leading King to the Elite Eight as a junior and senior, with a third-place finish in 1989 and a state title in 1990, he scored 206 points in eight state final games. King won a mythical national championship that season. Brandon finished with 3,157 career points, which is third all-time in Illinois high school basketball history. He was a part of three city championship teams. Brandon was Mr. Basketball and a McDonald’s All-American in 1990. Brandon also is one of only five players with over 3,000 career points in state history, finishing with 3,157 points, which is third all time.
5. Derrick Rose, Simeon (2007)
Why he’s No. 5: He was the ultimate winner, with back-to-back state championships while playing with what weren’t exactly loaded Simeon teams. And Rose, who won Mr. Basketball and Sun-Times Player of the Year, was considered a top five player nationally in a class that included O.J. Mayo, Kevin Love, Eric Gordon and Michael Beasley.
The case for Rose: Won back-to-back state championships during his junior and senior years, becoming the first Chicago Public League team to ever win consecutive titles. Simeon finished the year as the No. 6 team in the country by USA Today.
Rose had monumental individual performances during his career, including a last-second overtime basket to beat Peoria Richwoods in a state championship game his junior year. He also had a signature moment with 28 points, 9 assists and 8 rebounds over Oak Hill Academy, the nation’s No. 1 ranked team that finished 40-1 on the season.
A consensus top five player in the country in a loaded class nationally and the top-ranked point guard in the country in 2008. Rose was the Mr. Basketball winner and Chicago Sun-Times Player of the Year in 2008.
The remaining 15 (listed alphabetically)
■ Jalen Brunson, Stevenson (2015)
The case for: The state championship won this past March elevated Brunson on this list. That capped off a career that included a rare 100-plus career victories while guiding three different teams to top three finishes at state. In addition, he won every individual player honor in Illinois during his senior year.
Brunson’s individual accolades are head-turning when you look at the point totals –– he’s the all-time leading scorer in Lake County history and one of the top 20 scorers in state history with over 2,600 career points –– and signature moments. Brunson scored a memorable 56 points in a state semifinal loss to Jahlil Okafor and Young in 2014, which is a state tournament record. He registered a career high 57 as a junior against conference foe Lake Forest.
Then there are the awards, including the Gatorade Illinois High School Boys Basketball Player of the Year as a junior, along with being the Sun-Times Player of the Year and Mr. Basketball winner as a senior. He was a McDonald’s All-American, a consensus top 25 player in the country and a gold medalist for FIBA Americas national team.
■ Quinn Buckner, Thornridge (1972)
The case for: He played, obviously, before the plethora of national awards, rankings, national teams and all-star games became a part of the high school basketball lexicon. And what he did post-high school –– national champion at Indiana, Olympic gold medal and NBA champ –– is well documented.
But Buckner was an iconic prep hoops figure during his time, leading Thornridge to back-to-back state championships and a 64-1 record in 1970-71 and 1971-72. During his senior year, Buckner led T-Ridge to a perfect 33-0 record, a team that is considered to be arguably the greatest high school team in state history.
■ Russell Cross, Manley (1980)
The case for: Arguably the best high school player in Illinois who has received the least amount of fanfare over the years. Ask anyone from that era and they will tell you of the dominance of Cross, a 6-10 center who led Manley to a 31-1 record and state championship as a senior in 1980. A dominant force his senior year as he led Manley to a state championship, Cross was named to the 1980 McDonald’s All-American team.
■ Bruce Douglas, Quincy (1982)
The case for: For starters, he was part of a program that put together an amazing 123-5 record in his four varsity seasons for a storied basketball program. That included a famed 64-game winning streak that was snapped in the state semifinals his senior year.
The 6-3 point guard was named Mr. Basketball and a Parade All-American his senior year. This came after a junior year in which he was part of an unbeaten state championship team that is considered to be among the greatest teams in state history. In addition, he finished as the all-time leading scorer at a legendary basketball program with 2,040 points. Douglas had a memorable individual classic with 33 points and 18 assists in a 100-69 win over East St. Louis.
■ Walter Downing, Providence (1981)
The case for: First, he led a relative unknown high school program –– Providence Catholic –– to prominence the moment he entered high school. As a freshman, he led the Celtics to a third-place finish in Class A and was an all-tournament selection as a freshman. Then as a sophomore, he propelled Providence to a state championship (he scored a game-high 21 points in the state title game win).
That was just the beginning of what became one of the most storied prep careers in state history.
The 6-9 shot-blocking center led Providence back to the Elite Eight as a senior, the year he was voted as the state’s first-ever Mr. Basketball winner. He was also a Parade and McDonald’s All-American and one of the top recruits in the country. He was such a big name and such a hot prospect, Downing announced his college decision –– he chose a red-hot DePaul program before eventually transferring to Marquette –– in a Chicago radio studio.
■ LaPhonso Ellis, East St. Louis Lincoln (1988)
The case for: A high school hoops legend in the 1980s, Ellis was one of the top players in the country. He became an almost mythical figure statewide because so few fans and media members saw him play across the state, with everyone anxiously waiting to see him play in Assembly Hall in Champaign in March.
He was a McDonald’s All-American and Parade Magazine All-American during his senior season, although he lost out on Mr. Basketball to Eric Anderson of St. Francis De Sales.
Ellis was also part of a two-year run that included two straight state championships and a combined record of 56-5. In two state championship games, Ellis combined to score 53 points, 25 rebounds and 13 blocked shots.
■ Rashard Griffith, King (1993)
The case for: Griffith was a 7-foot prodigy in his four years playing under Landon Cox, going 117-4 in four years. He led King to a perfect 32-0 record as a senior, winning a state title and being named Mr. Basketball and a McDonald’s All-American in 1993.
Griffith was a imposing and dominating presence for a team that squashed foes during its state tourney run, which included wins by 25, 28, 31 and 37 points to cap off King’s state tournament run in 1993. He was a national recruit and a national name in high school basketball early on in his career.
■ Lowell Hamilton, Providence St. Mel (1985)
The case for: Since the beginning of the two-class system in 1972, Hamilton’s 1985 St. Mel team is considered by many to be the greatest small school champion in state history. And it was the 6-7 Hamilton who was the dominating force throughout his four years at St. Mel.
During Hamilton’s four years in high school, St. Mel won four sectional titles, reached Champaign three times and won an incredible 116 games. In 11 state tournament games, he scored 165 points and pulled down 94 rebounds.
As a senior he was a McDonald’s All-American and a must-see player as one of the top prep prospects in the country.
■ Ed Horton, Springfield Lanphier (1985)
The case for: Lanphier was a state power in the mid-1980s, due in large part to the dominant play of 6-8 Ed Horton. As a sophomore in 1983, Horton burst on the scene and began making a name for himself with 18 points and 9 rebounds in a state title win over Peoria.
Two years later as a senior, a season in which Horton was named Mr. Basketball in Illinois, easily beating runner-up Lowell Hamilton of St. Mel, he again led Lanphier back to the Elite Eight in Champaign. Behind Horton, Lanphier lost a memorable state championship game to Mt. Carmel at the buzzer in overtime.
Horton averaged 25.8 points and 13.9 rebounds a game as a senior and scored 2,004 points in his career. As a high school All-American, Horton was MVP of the high-profile Capitol Classic all-star game with 21 points and 9 rebounds.
■ Shaun Livingston, Peoria Central (2004)
The case for: Throughout his high school career he was the rare breed as a 6-7 pure point guard. He was a player who fans across the state wanted to see as the hype built over his final two seasons.
But Livingston became synonymous with winning while becoming a prep legend. As a junior and senior at Peoria Central, Livingston led the Lions to a remarkable 62-3 record and back-to-back state championships. During his senior year he averaged 18.5 points, six rebounds and six assists a game.
Livingston, who won Mr. Basketball in Illinois his senior year, was co-MVP of the McDonald’s All-American game, was a consensus top five prospect in the country in 2004 and the No. 1 ranked point guard. He made the jump from high school to the pros, after committing to Duke, where he was the No. 4 overall pick of the Los Angeles Clippers in the 2004 NBA Draft.
■ Sergio McClain, Peoria Manual (1997)
The case for: Regarded as the heart-and-soul during his four years at Manual while the program won four straight state championships. As a senior, McClain, a three-time all-stater, was named the 1997 Mr. Basketball award winner.
The case against McClain for being higher on the list would be his overall numbers as the 6-4 do-it-all never did put up eye-popping offensive numbers, never averaging more than 18.5 points a game.
■ Jon Scheyer, Glenbrook North (2006)
The case for: The legend began when he led a no-named Glenbrook North team to the Elite Eight as a freshman, leading the Spartans in scoring with 15 points a game.
As a junior in 2005, Scheyer led Glenbrook North to a 32-2 record and a state championship. That came after scoring 48 points in the super-sectional. Then there is the legendary game at the Proviso West Holiday Tournament, where he scored 21 points in 75 seconds.
While Scheyer wasn’t a top 20 player in the country, he was a McDonald’s All-American. But it’s his high school numbers and production that elevates his status; Scheyer was an Illinois high school icon who filled gyms. As a senior he averaged an attention-grabbing 32 points and 5 assists a game and finished his career as the state’s fourth all-time leading scorer with 3,034.
■ Jay Shidler, Lawrenceville (1976)
The case for: There is so much to say for a player who grabbed so much attention and adulation across the state as a prep player in the mid-1970s. He even had a memorable nickname that stuck –– “The Blonde Bomber,” for his bleach-blonde hair and great long-range shooting. He played before there was a three-point line and scored 2,183 points while being recognized as one of the greatest shooters in state history. He was also a Parade All-American.
In addition to being a part of a state championship team as a sophomore, Shidler set the state on fire as a senior, particularly in March. On the final day of the season, Shidler poured in a still-talked-about-today 93 points in two games in leading Lawrenceville to a third-place finish. He averaged 32.7 points a game as a senior and a memorable 39 points a game in the final four state tournament games in 1976.
■ Marty Simmons, Lawrenceville (1983)
The case for: The current head coach at Evansville, Simmons was one of the most celebrated players in state history, even while playing outside the Chicago area. His legend grew as he led Class A Lawrenceville to back-to-back-state titles and unprecedented 34-0 records in consecutive seasons. The 68 straight wins became a legendary mark in state basketball history, breaking the Quincy mark of 64 straight wins.
Simmons, who averaged 34 points a game in four state tournament games in 1983, scored a ridiculous 1,087 points during his senior year and finished his career with a whopping 2,986 career points. He was named Mr. Basketball in Illinois in 1983. Simmons also had a signature moment in a state quarterfinal win over Providence St. Mel. In the 56-54 win, Simmons scored 43 points, including all 23 of Lawrenceville’s second half points and 33 of its final 35.
■ Frank Williams, Peoria Manual (1998)
The case for: Early in his career he joined up with Manual teammates Sergio McClain and Marcus Griffin to win three state championships in his first three years of high school. Although he didn’t win a fourth one as a senior, Williams was a McDonald’s All-American and was named Mr. Basketball for the state of Illinois in 1998.
As a senior, he averaged 24 points, 8 rebounds and six assists a game, while putting together one memorable week of basketball that made headlines. He scored 40 points against Farragut, 42 against East St. Louis and 38 against Proviso West in a one-week span.
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